100 years of policing report

Justice Minister Helen McEntee TD: ‘The envy of many police services’

This year, we are marking 100 years since the handing over of the administration of the State to the new Free State administration. Among the many significant events that took place in 1922, one of the most important was the formation of our national police service, An Garda Síochána, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD writes.

The establishment of a new police service by the Provisional Government, initially named ‘The Civic Guard’, was one of the key foundation stones of the Irish Free State, and An Garda Síochána remains to this day one of the great successes of this country. Its foundation marking the start of a special relationship between the Irish people and the police service of the new State.

Throughout the past century, the organisation has stayed true to its founding principles, with its defining characteristic being its unique connection to our communities. A relationship which is the envy of many police services across the world, rooted in and serving our communities, keeping people safe.

Our local gardaí are the people who we turn to in our most difficult moments and, often, they are the ones to break difficult news and support us in our most intense moments of grief.

Over its first 100 years, An Garda Síochána has faced a succession of challenges, from establishing the trust of the people following years of unrest and war, to World War II, ‘the Troubles’, the growth of organised crime, Covid-19, and a range of other obstacles in between. On each occasion, individual gardaí have risen to the challenge and kept us safe.

Policing during any time in history is hugely challenging and I am always impressed when I see new recruits passing out in Templemore, because I know that the decision to commit so wholeheartedly to public service in the way that gardaí do is not a decision that is taken lightly.

The hard work carried out by individual gardaí and management in building and sustaining community relationships over the decades has ensured that serving members can enjoy the high level of respect from the public that is both deserved and necessary to do their jobs.

While recognising the key contribution made by An Garda Síochána over the last century, it is also important that we look forward and develop and modernise our police service for its next 100 years.

Indeed, this is a crucial time for policing in this country as the Government works to implement the recommendations made by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I am honoured to hold the office of Minister for Justice at such an important time of reflection and reform.

Central to the Commission’s work was the first key principle that Human Rights are the foundation and purpose of policing and that is the driving motivation behind all of our work.

It is important that our focus is on people, whether we are talking about victims of crime, vulnerable or elderly people, people from our ‘new Irish’ communities, or indeed any person who requires the assistance of An Garda Síochána from time to time, whether they even know it or not.

This is central to my department’s focus on community safety, a concept which goes beyond my department and An Garda Síochána alone and encompasses all services working in an area.

It is important we also realise that the criminal landscape is changing with increasing speed and we must have the right structures, technology and oversight systems in place in order to combat today’s challenges.

Yes, this means increased gardaí on the streets and the Government is continuing to invest in increasing the total number of gardaí. The Garda Commissioner is also introducing a new operating model which will provide more front-line gardaí, increased Garda visibility and a wider range of policing services for people in their local area.

In addition, thanks to the recruitment of Garda civilian staff, over 800 gardaí have already been reassigned to core policing duties, providing higher visibility, and allowing people to feel safer in their communities.

However, it is important we recognise that crime today is not solely about physical break ins. As we have all seen over the course of the pandemic, increasingly criminals are also targeting victims through fraud and other forms of cybercrime. It is therefore essential for gardaí to have access to the latest technologies available and my department is also providing An Garda Síochána with the budget necessary to do this.

In fact, this year, government has provided An Garda Síochána with a record budget of over €2 billion.

“Throughout the past century, the organisation has stayed true to its founding principles, with its defining characteristic being its unique connection to our communities.”
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD

Under Justice Plan 2022, I have committed to the publication of the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill. This important legislation will make provision for Garda powers to use modern digital technology including body worn cameras, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and CCTV.

I believe that keeping our criminal law up to date is vital and extending the circumstances in which these important tools can be used will assist gardaí on a daily basis in making sure serious criminals are identified, apprehended and prosecuted.

As well as increased resources, we are also working to ensure that the best possible structures are in place. In line with the Commission on the Future of Policing’s recommendations, my department is bringing through legislation, including the landmark Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, to ensure the best possible structures and oversight systems are in place.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD attends the official opening of the the new Dublin Airport Garda Station in May 2022.
Credit: Department of Justice.

I believe it is important too that all members of our communities see themselves represented in An Garda Síochána. I am delighted to see a steady increase in the numbers of new recruits who come from diverse backgrounds and the contribution that they will make to policing cannot be underestimated. The lasting positive effects, especially in the pivotal roles of community policing and human rights, will stand to us well into the future.

If you would like to learn more about the actions that gardaí are going to be concentrating on over the next three years, I would encourage you to read the recently published Policing Priorities 2022-24, as well as the Garda Strategy Statement for the same years, which highlight the following five priorities: protecting and supporting victims and the vulnerable; supporting and ensuring community safety; tackling organised and serious crime; rights based and ethical service delivery; and development of the capacity to strategically manage Garda resources.

Delivery of these priorities will be another key step in An Garda Síochána’s work of keeping us safe.

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